Aruba’s “One Happy Island” reputation comes not only from its great beaches or its varied activities, but from its friendly and welcoming people. As a Marriott Vacation Club® Owner, I’ve experienced firsthand what it’s like to enjoy the island like a local.
After more than 10 years of vacationing at Marriott’s Aruba Surf Club, I’ve spent plenty of time exploring the island’s restaurants, casinos and other tourist attractions that stretch from downtown Oranjestad north to the California Lighthouse. But I’ve also enjoyed meeting island residents and going off the beaten path in the other half of Aruba, which is less geared to visitors and more representative of local life and culture.
Here are seven ways to experience daily life in Aruba like a local:
Visit San Nicolas
Until fairly recently, Aruba’s “other” city (besides the well-trodden capital of Oranjestad) was best known for its oil refinery. Now, San Nicolas has thrown open its doors to welcome tourists with an ambitious street art initiative and a variety of special events.
The rebranded “Sunrise City” is home to Aruba’s most enduring watering hole, the always colorful Charlie’s Bar, as well as a kaleidoscope of brightly-colored buildings and murals, art galleries on Zeppenfeldstraat, and the weekly Carubbian Festival, a street fair and mini Carnival mashup. Cosecha, a design store, gallery, workshop and teaching space, is the epicenter of San Nicolas’ booming arts scene. The monthly Experience San Nicolas street festival is another great way to experience this lively port city.
Browse the Santa Rosa Farmer’s Market
Aruba may be a desert island, but that doesn’t stop local farmers from raising a variety of produce under the warm Caribbean sun, including mangoes, papaya and coconuts. You’ll find fresh fruit, homemade cookies and cakes, aloe products, and other natural and organic goods for sale at the Santa Rosa Farmer’s Market. It’s held in the agricultural community of Santa Rosa, in the center of the island, the first Sunday of every month.
Catch a Baseball Game
Xander Bogaerts may be the most famous Aruban on the planet right now — the Boston Red Sox starting shortstop won his second World Series in 2018, and is just the latest ballplayer from Aruba to make the major leagues. As in neighboring Curacao, baseball is huge in Aruba, and local games draw big crowds of Arubans, plus a smattering of curious baseball fans from the U.S. and Canada.
The premier baseball stadium in Aruba is Don Elias Mansur Ballpark in Oranjestad, which seats 12,000 people. But you also can catch a game at the many community fields scattered around the island, including the one bearing Bogaerts’ name in Lago Heights.
Savor Local Flavors
The Flying Fishbone restaurant in Savaneta is pretty well known to Aruba visitors. But if you’re looking for a more local vibe in the same neighborhood, with the same fresh-off-the-boat seafood, then detour into Zeerovers: the bar and eatery occupies part of a fishing wharf and offers seafood dishes for dining in or taking out.
Elsewhere, De Suikertuin Bistro may be located in downtown Oranjestad, but it transports you to a typical Aruban back patio party to enjoy popular local dishes. Try the Indonesian-inspired fried rice dish, nasi goreng, and keshi yena — which is basically a ball of baked cheese stuffed with meat. Also in Oranjestad, Taste My Aruba is a bistro serving classic Aruban tapas and comfort food.
In working-class San Nicolas, barbecued steak, chicken and pork are on the menu at Grill Time on Bernhardstraat. Want to eat Aruban closer to your resort? Check out Local Store, just a few blocks off Palm Beach; the Funchi Fries alone are worth the walk over.
Choose the Beaches Less Traveled
Palm Beach in Aruba’s hotel zone is gorgeous — there’s a reason Marriott Vacation Club® situated two resorts here. But for a change in scenery, head to Arashi Beach near the California Lighthouse, where local residents gather on Saturdays to swim, snorkel, socialize and barbecue with friends and family.
On the northwest shore, Boca Catalina Beach has a similarly local, family-friendly feel, with the added attraction of good fishing: you’ll find the catch of the day sizzling over many a grill as the sun settles over the horizon. Rodgers Beach has the calm, shallow waters of nearby (and better known) Baby Beach, but it tends to be less crowded and, thanks to the fishing boats bobbing in the surf, pretty photogenic, too.
Sip at an Aruban Rum Shop
The Caribbean is a melting pot of cultures — Aruba, for example, blends Dutch, Spanish, African and South American traditions — but one constant from island to island is the timeless appeal of the rum shop. Aruba’s rum shops (or “rum shacks”) attract everyone from laborers to lawyers and serve as community gathering places. San Nicolas has the greatest concentration of rum shops, including the Aruba Rum Shop on Bernhartstraat.
Try Your Luck at Bingo
Many of Aruba’s big beach hotels have casinos, and visitors tend to flock to the table games and slots. But you’ll find more locals at the afternoon bingo games at the Alhambra Casino, Tropicana Resort, La Cabana and the Stellaris Casino at the Aruba Marriott® Resort. You can also warm up your blotter skills at the daily poolside bingo game at Marriott’s Aruba Surf Club.
Where to Stay: